Recently, on a miserable cold day, my husband and son were watching a marathon of the original “Twighlight Zone” series. For those of you who may not know, this was Rod Serling’s popular science fiction series that ran from 1959-1964. I walked into the room just as the episode “ The Bewitchin’ Pool” episode was beginning. The episode begins as the family is sitting outside by their in ground pool with the parents dropping that they are getting a divorce, and, in angry voices, mom and dad tell the children that they have to decide who they want to live with. The fact that the children then jump into the pool and travel through a magical portal and meet a kindly old woman is not relevant to this story.
What is relevant is the next day, Monday, I came into work to a message from a client as to the interaction that had occurred with children of my client. And I realize that sadly, parents in a divorce have not evolved for the better in the 47 years that have passed since the episode aired. My client had informed be that in the midst of a rage, his spouse had told the kids that she had never liked their father, they were getting a divorce, and who do you want to live with? At that point I felt as if I was the one swimming underwater.
Just stop it. The answer is easy. The child or children want to live with both parents. They do not want to move from their house, and they want to have dinner with both parents at the table. And most of all, the kids do not want to feel that they are the ones who have to make the decision of who to live with. With all due respect to the many talented Ph D’s in child psychology that I work with regularly, it doesn’t take a rocket scientist to figure this out.
So what to do? Keep your children out of it! If they ask, let them know that you as parents, with help from the judge, will decide what is best for them. If they have to go through a custody evaluation and meet with someone, just tell them that that person is going to ask them things about what they like, and what they do during the day, and that they do not have to choose. And make sure they know that no matter what happens, you will both love them. Judges and custody evaluators are smart; they clearly know when a child has been coached, and in addition to being unfair to the child, all that coaching is going to do is look bad on the parent who does it. If one parent is acting poorly, don’t rise to the challenge; rise above it. Maybe not now, but at the end of the road, the kids are going to know which parent was the one who acted fairly, and which one did not.